To do so is to make a promise to you fine folks that there's every chance I'll break, and obviously, that's not on. But today I'm going to make an exception, because tomorrow's content is, as they say, in the can. I know not what can. Or why one would can content in the first place — but there you go.
Anyway, tomorrow on TSS, I'm going to post my review of a speculative debut that impressed me tremendously: The City's Son by Tom Pollock. Not to toot the horn, but I've had a galley for many months, and keeping this piece under wraps for so long has been a matter of some consternation to yours truly, because this book... this book is something else.
It's coming out a week from today here in the UK, and I'd urge anyone with a passing interest in urban fantasy to get their pre-orders in immediately. If there's any justice in our bookish corner of the blogosphere, you'll be hearing a whole lot more about The City's Son in the months to come.
Tomorrow, then, the review. So why I am blithering about it today?
That's because it was my immense pleasure to sit down with Tom Pollock, figuratively if alas not literally, to have a chat about who he is, how he got here, what his first book's all about, and various other subjects — all for the inaugural edition of About the Author. Which is to say a new feature here on TSS, which differs from the other interviews I've conducted on the blog because of its specific subject: namely new writers I really like the look of.
Also, it's intended to be a series both short and sweet — by my standards, at least.
Enough introduction. Let's get to this thing!
Good day to you, Tom Pollock.
And a very good day to you, Niall Alexander.
So, first things first: tell us a little bit about yourself, sir. For those folks not yet in the know, who are you, and what are you doing on The Speculative Scotsman?
I’m an urban fantasy novelist, a book hoover and a dispenser of what I’m told are excellent hugs from a man of my size.
How would you describe your debut?
Probably the most urban fantasy you’ve ever read.
First novels are obviously ten-a-penny. Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve read yours, and I tend to think it’s something special — hence the questions. But what do you think makes your debut distinct?
Not sure I agree with the ten-a-penny assertion — there’s a wave of debuts now for sure, but I’ve read a lot of them and they mostly had something interesting going on.
As for The City’s Son, I’d say it’s the slantwise look it takes at London, the way it restores the sense of the weird (and The Weird) under the brick and concrete. I’ve had a couple of early readers tell me it’s made them afraid of cranes.
As far as advance reaction goes, I’ll take that.
How did it come about, anyway? What was the initial spark behind The City’s Son?
The initial spark was a feeling more than an idea. The City’s Son is supposed to be a dark ‘just-so’ story for the city, so you can look at ordinary things: streetlamps coming on at dusk, trains stopping and waiting mid-journey, and there’s this whole creation mythology for why that happens. I think I made this stuff up because I felt an emotional connection to London that went beyond what you think you’d feel for a collection of streets and buildings. I wanted to cast it in terms of a metaphor that made sense of that.
Going back a bit farther: have you always been a fan of speculative fiction?
What would you say to people who think “genre” is a dirty word?
I suppose I’d say you either have a genre taxonomy to help you understand literature or you don’t, and either way is fine, but if you do think in genre terms then surely every book should be in at least one genre? Genres are continents on a map, and at the moment the cartographers are telling us that a bunch of countries don’t have a continent because they’re special. I think the map just needs redrawing.
Are there any particular authors who have been an inspiration to you and/or your work?
Tons. Dozens. The acknowledgements to The City’s Son lists Alan Garner, China Mieville, David Almond, Neil Gaiman and Patrick Ness, but that’s just the tip of the Star Destroyer. Ursula Le Guin’s an inspiration, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Garth Nix, Tolkein, Frank Herbert. If I hadn’t read any one of these authors, the books I write would be worse for it.
I know it’s an impossible question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. What’s your favourite book, and why?
Oh… Christ. Um. Ok, tempting as it is to go for something clever and obscure, I’m going to say The Lord of The Rings.
Why? Because it’s got a conviction to it I’ve never seen matched. The effect of the language and maps and the density of the thought in Middle Earth combine to make a story I found it impossible not to believe in. I think World Building’s become a bit of a dirty word in fantasy recently. I’d like it back please.
Moving on, where are you from, and how do you think that’s factored into your fiction.
London. Every way and every how.
And what do you do for a living, Tom, when you’re not making stuff up? Has your past or present employment in any sense shaped the way you work?
Right now I help build very big ships. I don’t know if that’s impacted the writing overly much to be honest. Although I wouldn’t rule out a tankerpunk story in the future.
Oh when I was little enough I wanted to be a beetle, then a superhero, then a ghost, then for a brief period I wanted to be all three. When I decided I wanted to be a writer I felt I’d taken a step forward in my ambitions, that this was a grown up thing to want. My Dad didn’t agree so much.
Now that your book’s very nearly here, the long, hard road to publication is a fearfully easy thing to gloss over, but before my point’s entirely moot, might I ask how you went about breaking in? Was it as long and as hard as all that?
Not for me, but I got very lucky. I wrote a book, polished it up and started querying. The agent and then the editors who happened to deeply connect with my work happened to see it early. It could have taken much longer.
One thing I would say though, it never hurts to come to cons and meet people. If nothing else it’s a good way to make friends who like the same stuff as you, and good things often come of that.
How about when you realised your dream was about to be realised. Tell me about that moment.
My new editor took me out for lunch. I’m a clutz and when surprised I have a tendency to fumble whatever I’m holding - in this case a bowl of steaming miso soup. There were tears, tears of joy, yes, but also of scalding.
So how are you holding up in the run-up to release week? What are you most looking forward to, and is there anything you’re particularly dreading?
I’m doing okay, I’m looking forward to the launch (I’m reading, and it’s always fun to simulate the sound of a train-wreck with the back of my throat). I’m mostly dreading the launch. In case no-one comes :)
Do you maintain a social media presence? If so, how has that affected your work ethic?
I mess around on Twitter quite a bit, and update my blog with alarming irregularity. Mostly whenever I have something vaguely theory-driven or academic to say. My work ethic is close to indestructible, owing to the fact that it’s so small and ephemeral it’s virtually at the quantum level anyway so you can’t break it down any further.
How important do you think blogs are in terms of getting the good word about your book and the work of other new authors out there?
I have no idea. My best guess is it’s a big component of word of mouth in the bookish world, but their influence will be indirect and not always obvious.
So what’s next for you, Tom? Where do you see yourself in a year?
Next up is the sequel. The Glass Republic is due in October and should be out this time next year. I’m about halfway through writing it and it’s a very weird book. The main character’s one of the supporting ones from The City’s Son, and she’s been a blast to write.
I first came across your name in the fantastic Pandemonium anthology, edited by the wonderful pair behind Pornokitsch, but besides that and The City’s Son, have you had any other work published? If so, where might the good folks find it?
Nope, that’s it for me! I’m not a prolific short story writer. I love and admire them when I read them, and every now and then I get an idea for one, but by and large I’m a long-form kinda guy.
Alas, this inaugural edition of About the Author is drawing to a close, but before I let you off the hook, how can people keep up to speed with all things Tom Pollock?
Best way is probably on my twitter @tomhpollock (what the H stands for is a state secret in eighteen countries). If you’ve got an RSS feed you could add my blog www.tompollock.com, especially if you like random musing essays and Polar Bears.
Last but not least: tell me something about yourself that no-one knows.
Oh, go on! I don’t know about these guys, but I can keep a secret. :)
It’s not something no-one knows, but I spend every eighth week on 24 call out notice in case of pirate attack.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Tom. I’m sure we can all agree, getting to know you a little bit better has been an absolute pleasure.
So how did everyone like that?
Do pop on over to Tom's blog, or follow the fellow on Twitter, if you want to hear more from this extraordinarily promising up-and-coming author.
Meanwhile, if you fancy a few more of these features... say so!
Last but not least, remember to stay tuned to The Speculative Scotsman for my review of The City's Son tomorrow. Spoiler alert: I think it's pretty brilliant.